Most surgeons are well-trained and able to provide a standard of care that is competent and meets applicable protocols. However, because of how closely they must work near a nerve or a nerve network, sometimes they damage a nerve. Whether a doctor or medical professional is responsible for the harm arising from this nerve damage depends upon whether medical malpractice is involved. That is, did the physician meet the standard of care required?
What Causes Nerve Damage?
The human body has three types of nerves – autonomic, sensory, and motor nerves. When nerves are pinched, scraped, severed or cut, there may be irreversible pain and permanent damage. The three types of nerve damage include:
- Mononeuropathy – A single nerve is damaged. Typically, this occurs in nerves that run close to the skin or near a bone.
- Neuritis – Due to inflammation, nerves get compressed. This can be due to injury, infection, or autoimmune disorders.
- Polyneuropathy – Multiple nerves may be damaged in one or multiple areas of the body. Infections, cancers, toxins, nutritional deficiencies and other disorders may cause polyneuropathy.
If a surgeon fails to detect the presence of a nerve during surgery, and cuts or otherwise damages a nerve, there can be serious physical consequences. In the event of nerve damage, the body is unable to relay messages from the central nervous system to other parts of the body. A person who has suffered surgical nerve damage may experience the following:
- Burning sensations;
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet;
- Loss of feeling or loss of sight;
- Sharp pains in the affected area;
- Sexual dysfunction, most notably erectile dysfunction;
- Bladder or bowel incontinence;
- Inability to hold objects;
- Muscle twitching, weakness or atrophy;
- Partial or complete paralysis;
- Coldness in body extremities;
- Heaviness of legs or arms; and
- Difficulty lifting the foot.
Potential Causes of Surgical Nerve Damage
Potential causes of surgical nerve damage may include:
- Improperly administered anesthesia;
- Improper extraction of blood samples via needles;
- Damage to nerves during hernia surgery;
- Severed nerves during knee replacement surgery;
- Improper use of surgical retractors, scalpels, tourniquets and other medical implements and tools that results in either nerve damage or inflammation of surrounding tissue;
- Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis of certain medical conditions related to the nervous system;
- Applying excessive force on the nerve during surgery; and
- Improper positioning of patients during surgery.
Making a Successful Nerve Damage Claim
It can be very difficult to prevail on a medical malpractice claim, but with the assistance of an Orlando medical malpractice lawyer, you will dramatically increase your odds of success. The first step is developing evidence that shows you have actually sustained nerve damage. From a medical perspective, nerve damage can be proven through several methods. An electromyogram is a diagnostic method to assess the health of nerve cells and uses electrical impulses to determine the level of damage. In addition, magnetic resonance neurography is a technique used to check peripheral nerve damage. This is an advanced test that utilizes the power of magnetic resonance to detect a wide range of nerve problems outside of the spinal cord. Finally, ultrasound imaging can be used to check the swelling or compression of the nerves. This is a painless and less invasive analysis to identify if nerve damage is present.
Once there is evidence of actual nerve damage, from a legal perspective, a plaintiff must prove the following elements in order to prevail in a medical malpractice case:
- The surgeon or doctor owed the patient a duty of care;
- The surgeon or doctor breached their duty of care to the patient;
- That breach in duty of care was the direct cause of the patient’s injuries; and
- The patient incurred physical, psychological, financial or other losses as a result of the breach.
It’s important to remember that not all nerve damage is the result of medical malpractice. For example, people with diabetes or those undergoing chemotherapy may have nerve damage unrelated to negligence by a doctor.
Damages That May Be Awarded
If you are able to prove your claim, there are several types of legal damages that may be awarded. In Florida, these include economic damages, non-economic damages, and in rare cases punitive damages. Economic damages, which are also called compensatory damages, include past and future medical expenses, the cost of rehabilitation, lost wages, the loss of future earnings, and compensation for other similar items.
Non-economic damages are more subjective and therefore more difficult to measure. These include pain and suffering, mental anguish, disability or disfigurement, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life. Until recently, Florida had a cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases. However, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled such caps unconstitutional.
The courts will only award punitive damages in a medical malpractice case in Florida in the case of intentional or gross negligence. Thus, punitive damage awards are rare. If punitive damages are awarded, the amount is three times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is higher.
Contact HPS Medical Malpractice Lawyers Today
Florida Statute 95.11(4)(b) requires that a person file a medical malpractice lawsuit within 2 years of the date the harm from the malpractice was discovered or could reasonably have been discovered. Because of this relatively short window of time to file a case, it’s imperative to contact an Orlando medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you suspect medical malpractice.
Our medical malpractice experience at Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm is deep and wide. We have mediated, arbitrated and litigated hundreds of cases with excellent results for our clients. We understand how important your case is to you and your family, and we diligently represent our clients with expertise and tact. For more information about our firm or to arrange a confidential consultation, please complete and submit the form below or call 1-800-693-4465.